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  • New Challenges Bring Creative Solutions to Sam Houston EC

New Challenges Bring Creative Solutions to Sam Houston EC

  New Challenges Bring Creative Solutions to Sam Houston EC

Electricity is a necessity. That statement isn’t simply an ideal of Sam Houston Electric Cooperative, or an industry attempting to legitimize its existence to consumers. The energy sector is considered an essential industry by local, state and federal governments across the nation.

As an essential industry, the Cooperative is still providing safe, reliable and affordable electricity to more than 56,000 consumer-members and 76,000 meters throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Co-op management has taken steps to keep employees and consumer-members safe while helping to “flatten the curve” by realigning employees and other critical resources to work differently than usual.

“As providers of essential services, Co-op employees are still working, and most are working remotely,” Chief Communications Officer Keith Stapleton said. “While we’ve made adjustments for your safety and our employees’ safety, our goal is to continue the same excellent service you’ve come to expect.”

Line technicians are often the most visible Co-op employees because of their large trucks, especially when they are working from their buckets 30 feet in the air. Most interactions with consumer-members, however, take place with member service representatives either in-person or over the phone.

Cooperative member service representatives have not had the ability to work from home during other critical events in the past, such as hurricanes, but this unique challenge has required new and different solutions. Beginning the second week in March, a few member service representatives worked from home via virtual connections, to test whether they could still provide reliable service to our consumer-members remotely.

“I think everyone was happy with the results and the employees know their safety and well-being are very important to Sam Houston Electric,” said Jeff Slone, member services supervisor.

The IT department downloaded special software on computers allowing the representatives to work from home while still ensuring member information was kept secure.

“We actually now have more people on the phones to take care of the customers since all three branches have closed their lobbies and drive-thru windows,” said James Walker, member services supervisor.

Representatives have the ability to work from home as long as they have an internet connection, but some employees’ job responsibilities require them to come to the office.

Sonya Reece, accounting, is one employee that is able to work from home, but she also comes in to the Livingston office at times.

“I am able to do most of my daily duties from home,” Reece said. “I can key and route invoices for approval, communicate with coworkers and vendors via email, print and submit payments to vendors and employees from home.”

However, certain tasks in the accounting department have to be conducted in the office so the employees in that department are rotating days to handle invoices that come in via mail and to print documents to be reviewed, according to Reece.

Reece did say there is a strange feeling when she does come into work. She misses all her coworkers that sees during a regular workday.

As many employees are working from home, they are also enjoying the unexpected, extra time they have with their families.

“We’ve tried to take breaks with each other by having lunch or going outside together,” Reece said. “I’m trying to keep them on task in school as much as possible, with the exception of their 7:15 a.m. school start time. I’m sure they appreciate that. They are going stir crazy from being in the house so long, but we are making the best of it, that’s all we can do.”

Even the Cooperative’s line technicians and other outside employees have made important changes to their daily tasks.

“All crews are being supplied with protective supplies such as anti-bacterial wipes and hand sanitizer,” Chief Communications Officer Keith Stapleton said. “We are all practicing social distancing, so don’t be offended if a technician steps away and keeps a healthy distance if approached in the field.”

Crews are working “driveway to driveway,” meaning that they start and end their workdays from their homes. They come to the office only when it’s necessary to resupply their trucks with materials.

Line technicians are working with only one partner, so as to limit exposure to other people. If recommendations from federal, state or local authorities call for other safety measures, the Cooperative has additional plans to ensure our members still receive outstanding service and a reliable flow of electricity.

 New Challenges Bring Creative Solutions to Sam Houston EC